City seeks its dock permit belatedly


Herald Writer

LAKE STEVENS — The saga of a dock built by the city twice as long as first proposed has taken a new twist.

The city has withdrawn a permit, first approved in 1995, for construction of the dock, which was built in February. City officials say they will reapply for the permit, most likely using the dock’s final, larger dimensions.

The dock at the end of 17th Place NE, originally proposed as 65 feet long, turned out to be 136 feet long.

City officials say they want to correct a previous procedural error, which they say was hard to track because of staff turnover.

Neighbors of the dock, who are as unhappy at how the process failed as they are at the way the dock blocks their waterfront view, are left wondering if a private builder would have received the same leniency from regulators.

Rick Vilhauer, the city’s public works supervising manager, said the city is refiling the permit because "the city wants to do the right thing," and let the public review the new application in public hearings.

Karen Murphy, who lives near the dock, said of the city’s recent actions: "I couldn’t do this. I don’t know how they could."

She and her husband, Mike, have filed an appeal of the original permit.

The dock became a source of controversy when the Murphys noticed "big parts started showing up" outside the recreation-room window of their four-bedroom home this spring, Karen said.

The only notice they’d seen was a permit allowing the city to replace an existing structure, which was a much-smaller public boat launch used during the city’s Aquafest event.

"We would not have said a word if they had built what they described," Karen said.

The city first applied for a permit for a 65-foot dock in 1995, which was approved by a city hearing examiner, said John Jimerson, city senior planner.

The hearing examiner asked for modifications to address neighbors’ concerns about noise. Revised drawings, however, gave no specific dimensions, Jimerson said.

As a result, builders did the best they could, said Dave O’Leary, city administrator.

"We didn’t have adequate records," he said.

After receiving approval for the permit, city officials should have sent the permit to the Department of Ecology for approval, but didn’t. City officials realized the oversight when the Murphys raised questions about the dock.

The city then sent the original permit to Ecology in April.

"We thought we’d better finish the process, even if it’s five years late," O’Leary said.

The Murphys then appealed the permit and a hearing was set with the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

In the meantime, the city decided to withdraw the permit altogether. Jimerson said he’d calculated that the modifications required in 1995 would have resulted in a 116-foot dock. The existing 136-foot-long dock is 17 percent bigger than Jimerson’s estimate.

So, the city decided to pull the permit because, according to state law, a structure cannot be increased by more than 10 percent without further hearings, Jimerson said.

"It (the dock) meets all code rules and shoreline polices, but as far as process, the correct way to do it is to have another public hearing," he said.

Although the Shorelines Hearing Board met to address the appeal, they couldn’t act on it as the permit was already pulled, said Bob Jensen, presiding officer of the board.

Jensen said the board has no authority to enforce permit violations. He also if a private party had built a structure before receiving final approval, the city or Ecology could impose fines or demand modifications or removal of the structure.

"We’re not intending to take any enforcement action. We’re waiting to see what the city’s permit looks like," Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said.

Jensen said the city will get the first shot at approving the next permit.

"I’m sure the city didn’t try to be deceptive (in applying for the first permit)," Jensen said.

But in these situations, as the city is both the applicant and the grantor of the permit, city officials need to be "particularly circumspect, as public trust is involved," he said.

"They need to be careful to be in good faith, so they don’t abuse their power."

As for the Murphys, Karen Murphy said they plan to attend public hearings on the new permit application, but they are not sure it will do any good.

"We’ve lost faith in what they’re doing," she said.

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